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Thurber, Texas


Remains of the Thurber brick factory


St. Barbara Catholic Church of Thurber, Texas



The Texas Pacific Coal Company recruited immigrants in the 1880's to work its rich coal mines at Thurber. Many diverse ethnic groups interacted to make Thurber a lusty, brawling industrial town which stood out strangely in the middle of a farming and ranching country. At its height Thurber had a population of 10,000. Poles and Italians did most of the mining; both groups lived on Hill Number 3. A railroad to the mines bisected the hill, with the Poles Antonio and Dortea Varisco and family. on the south side of the track and the Italians on the north. The Italians were clannish to the point of dividing their own group according to their place of origin in Italy. Perhaps their most outstanding contribution was to the musical life of Thurber.

The Italians were generally conceded to have the best band; members often played at the Dallas Fair. ln its heyday the town had an opera house, where major companies liked to perform because of the demonstrative Italian audiences. Equally appreciated were the culinary skills of these people. Each home had an outside oven and a cellar dedicated to the concept of ample "new bread and old wine: 'The more elaborate cellars had coolers for cheeses and meats. Carloads of grapes were shipped in from California for the production of homemade wine. Italian children were always the envy of others because they had such delicious grapes in their lunch boxes. Food was a featured attraction at the elaborate Italian weddings.

The specialty of these occasions was a rice dish called risotto, which was served with a salad, a variety of meats and barrels of wine. As the wine kegs were emptied, they were stacked up. The success of the festivity was measured by the height of the pyramid. The eve of the Lenten season was marked with a miniature Mardi Gras-type celebration. Men bedecked in outlandish costumes would go house-to-house entertaining the children. At each home the mother would serve a pastry called crostoti and, of course, the inevitable wine. The homemade wine was sometimes a problem - not for the ltalians, but for federal agents who were at the Italian Club picnic at Thurber trying to enforce national prohibition. If there were sufficient advance warning, the residents of Hill Number 3 moved the home brew to secret hiding places. Otherwise, they simply poured it on the ground. When law enforcement personnel arrived, the houses were empty of liquor, and no one knew anything about the aromatic rivulets trickling down the hill. ln 1918 oil strikes in the nearby Ranger field marked the end of Thurber as a mining town, since oil was a cheaper fuel than coal. Most of the mines closed in 1921, and the Italians either scattered to nearby towns or returned to their homeland. Today Thurber is a ghost town.


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